Since we were to be only riding around 45 km of mostly flat paths near the river, we knew that today’s ride was going to be quite enjoyable. We just didn’t realise at the start just how much fun it would turn out to be. The fact that we were able to ride out of Chinon under a lovely clear blue sky certainly did wonders for our early morale. For obvious reasons, even the toughest riding always seems easier when the sun is shining.
When we rode into the small hamlet of Savigny, it did not take me long to find a lovely Patisserie, well stacked with a fine assortment of sugar laden cakes. I instructed the peloton to stop as “it could be some time before we found another suitable cake stop”. A few minutes later we left the shop laden with lovely white bags packed with all sorts of tooth rotting goodies. We had learned all along the ride that it was virtually impossible to find a shop that sold coffee and cake and a quick scout around the town suggested that this place was to be no exception.
I went back into the Patisserie and asked the lady in my best French whether there was a coffee shop in the town. She looked at me a little strange and assured me “oui, oui”. I thought that maybe she thought I was asking for the closest toilet, but smiled and walked outside her door. We looked for the elusive coffee shop again without success, before going back in the shop and asking the same question all over again. The lady rolled her eyes, before indicating that the coffee shop was actually right next door. No wonder we couldn’t find it. It was hiding in plain sight.
I went to the door of the coffee shop and knocked. No answer. I tried turning the handle. It opened. I walked inside. “Bonjour” I called in fluent French. No answer. “BONJOUR”. Still no answer. Eventually the owner emerged from a rear room and looked like she might have either been in the toilet or fast asleep, or both. I asked for coffee and she flashed a big smile and beckoned for us all to come inside. Even better was the fact that she did not object when we asked if we could eat our cakes inside. This was a real bonus.
The women also quickly discovered that there was even a toilet situated at the end of a short corridor. Carol apparently had the greatest need, and rushed to make use of it. The rest of us sat and drank our coffees and munched on great globs of rich cream. About ten minutes later someone noticed a faint tapping noise coming out the back somewhere. We ignored it, but it would not go away. “Probably just something blowing in the wind”, I surmised. Ten minutes later Carol still had not returned, and the knocking increased in intensity. Perhaps the two items were related ? It turned out that Carol had somehow locked herself in the toilet and was starting to panic that she could not get out. I assured her that we would have realised her absence when we gathered for our evening meal.
The rest of the ladies were a little nervous about the inescapable toilet after that, especially as we had noticed numerous life sized effigies along the roadside just outside the village. Maybe they were a little more sinister than just dummies ? Would that have been Carol’s fate if we had not rescued her ? I guess we will never know. After doing a final head count to ensure that no one was still in the toilet we resumed our ride.
A short distance further on we reached the larger town of Candes St Martin, home to a huge ancient church. This was probably one of the oldest we had seen so far and, judging by the large cracks opening up on some of the walls, perhaps it will not survive to see another 700 years after all. While some stayed to mind the bikes, the rest took a short but steep walk up to The Panorama. This was a sensational vantage point which gave a glorious view out over the surrounding countryside and right across to the impressive nuclear power station which was belching a mammoth amount of steam into the otherwise blue sky. I am not so sure that I would like to live with that sight every day.
At this point we had two choices as to which route to take. One path led to the nearby Abbey of Fontevraud, while the other continued along the river. Since I had already seen enough Abbeys and Abbots to last me for quite some time I decided to follow the river. Some of the others will still working on their Abbey Quotas and grabbed their bikes, cameras and selfie sticks and headed for Fontevraud.
We had not ridden far before I remembered why I wanted to come this way. This area is famous for its huge underground caves and dwellings. Many of these huge underground caves are used for wine storage, but the most interesting of all were actually used as underground homes. The bike path actually passes through a series of these medieval tunnels, and all agreed that it was one of the most amazing things we had seen in our ride so far. Certainly far more interesting than another Abbey.
We even managed to find an underground restaurant/winery and settled down for a delicious and somewhat leisurely lunch before resuming the ride.
All though our ride so far we had been in the Eastern hemisphere, but each turn of the pedals took us further west towards the Atlantic. I had been monitoring our progress on my GPS and knew that we would soon be approaching the prime meridian of longitude. This is the meridian that passes through Greenwich and marks the dividing line between east and west. I walked the final few metres and marked the exact location with a prominent pink chalk line across the road. We then proceeded to conduct our own traditional ceremony. Since we didn’t quite know what to do, we though that maybe a bit of Moorish Dancing might be fitting (since we were due south of London).
At that moment a rather pompous looking Frenchman drove out of his drive, looked at what we had drawn on his road and did not look pleased (even when I waved and tried to look intelligent). I suspect he came back as soon as we had gone and washed it all away.
The rest of the ride into Saumur went without a hitch. The consensus of opinion was that it had been one of the most enjoyable days of the entire trip so far.